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«Thamarat» Program for Sudanese Families: Controversy surrounding benefits, accusations of corruption

The manner by which the “Thamarat” program – aimed at providing  Sudanese families with direct cash support — has been implemented has brought about a lot of criticism, accusations, and questions regarding the feasibility of the program, which many Sudanese families rely upon in reducing their economic burdens.

 

AlTaghyeer: Investigation: Elfadil Ibrahim

High controversy and turmoil have both accompanied the “Thamrat” direct cash support program, aimed at Sudanese families and launched by the Sudanese Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Hamdok at the end of last February.

The Thamarat program would link funding from donors directly to Sudanese families in an effort to minimize the effects of the country’s economic liberalization policies of late.

There are those who see that the program is merely a political gain that does not even begin to cover a small part of the cost of living, amid accusations of corruption that have affected the design aspects of the program.

Others however stress on the importance of the program for families affected by price hikes, legitimizing its existence so long as the government is adamant in continuing lifting subsidies on strategic materials and goods.

Requirements

The Thamarat program provides direct financial support to Sudanese families at the rate of $5 per person at the exchange rate established by Sudan’s Central Bank.

The program initially began in four states: “South Darfur, Red Sea, Kassala and Khartoum”, with coverage expected to gradually expand to include all citizens in all states, cover the program’s “80%” target reach.

When registering, the program requires a phone number registered in the name of the applicant and a national I.D. number for family members, as well as an account number.

The financial deposit is then made into the account number provided weeks, sometimes even days, after registration.

Citizens have been complaining of difficulties in registering and describe the program as a “hassle”.

Complaints

For instance, citizens inhabiting the southern Khartoum region –al-Salama, al-Azhari, and al-Kalakla – confirmed to AlTaghyeer that the registration procedures were easy, while many complained that the money did not reach them in their accounts, unlike their neighbors who registered alongside them.

A citizen in the Id Hussein area, Ahmed Abdel Karim, told AlTaghyeer that he had registered for the “Thamrat” program more than a month ago, but has yet to receive any money so far.

His neighbor, Othman Taha, indicates that he had registered using a “Zain” telecom operator number, but heard that registration via a “Sudani” telecom operator number in the “Goorooshi” service is faster and better.

Othman does not know whether this is true or just a popular myth.

Citizen al-Tayeb Farouk clarified that he had registered more than «4» months ago in the al-Kalakla district, but did not receive monetary support, while acknowledging that many with him in the neighborhood had received sums of money in their accounts.

Amwaj Abdullah, also a citizen of al-Kalakla, indicates that she had received support for the month of April only, having not received the allotted sums for the months of May and June.

While Ibrahim al-Sinari described the Thamarat program’s work as “unorganized”, saying that “among people, there are those who the amount went to twice a month, while others did not receive payment even once.”

Citizen Haider Abdul Qayyum, clueless to the whole process, said that he had no idea when and how the registration was carried out, and that he “heard from the neighbors that they registered” , while asking if it was possible for him to “register with the neighboring neighborhood?”

Rights Reserved

The Thamarat administration however, confirmed that the allotments are reserved, and anyone fully registered will receive their amount, even if late.

The administration responded through their “for inquires” call number to these complaints, and made it clear that anyone who did not receive support should review the place of registration in the neighborhood or administrative unit.

The administration attributed delays to the probability of the registrant not having their phone number registered in their name or due to problems with the national I.D. number.

Thamarat’s website instructed citizens against giving national information or numbers to people who come to them at home.

The website pointed out that data registration is done through the two service entrances according to a specific time and place for each region.

New statistics stated that the number of registered families amounted to “901,262” families while the number of families that received support reached “252,554”. 

Safety and Poverty

The Commissioner for Safety and Poverty, Ministry of Social Development, Dr. Ezz el-Din al-Safi, said that the Commission was established in 2008 to provide a database that determines poverty rates in Sudan according to specific maps.

Dr. Ezz el-Din al-Safi

He told AlTaghyeer that the “Thamrat” program, which was initiated by the transitional government, represents one of the programs aimed at mitigating the social effects resulting from the economic liberalization policy, along with “Sel’aati” and other programs; where 32 million Sudanese, in all states, are expected to be covered with an amount valued at $5 per person, with support from the World Bank valued at $1.9 billion.

“Slow” Program

Al-Safi admitted that there was a slowdown in the implementation of the program – launched last February – under the supervision of «4» ministries, namely Interior, Finance, Social Development and Communications.

“The program was delayed due to the lack of an integrated system and database,” he said.

He stated that the donors stipulated an electronic payment system that reduces imbalances, prevents any suspicion of corruption, and achieves financial inclusion.

Consumer Protection: The “Thamrat” program is a program in which citizens are humiliated and subdued

Humiliation

In this context, and according to the President of the Sudanese Society for Consumer Protection, Dr. Yasser Mirghani, the “Thamrat” program –as he puts it –humiliates and subjugates citizens.

He told AlTaghyeer that “the government will not be able to deliver it (the monetary support) to the real needy who do not knock on the government’s door. Therefore, the state must support education to become compulsory and free, along with health insurance instead of the Thamarat program.”

“All over the world, support is provided through the national family card and not through the national number, in terms of the fact that the latter does not contain information about housing, nature of the population, property or rent, health, psychological and family status, or who resides in the house,” Mirghani said.

In Numbers

The Commissioner for Safety and Poverty, Dr. Ezz el-Din, said that the program initially began during the first wave of COVID-19 and targeted “300,000” families, with ready-data for “80” families already present, based on the Ministry’s data obtained from the Social Safety Nets and the Zakat Bureau.

“After that, we developed an urgent data plan (Sudanese Families Forum) with the participation of all states, in that the program currently targets all states, while at the beginning was only in 4 states, and now there is registration in 14 states,” he said.

According to al-Safi, the registration reached “700,000” families, and the beginning was with “200” families, and is projected to reach between “800,000” families to one million families soon, while noting that cash transfers had reached “500,000” families by the end of June.

Challenges and Accusations

Al-Safi acknowledged that there are great challenges facing the “Thamarat” program, including the availability of the necessary data and infrastructure, and the Ministry of Finance is working with its partners in the program to overcome obstacles.

He noted the existence of organized campaigns targeting the program, some of which are based on ideological aspects rejecting any IMF project, and that there are others who believe that the project has been delayed and is not worth anything in front of the significant rise in prices induced by the national liberalization policy.

Reasons for Delay

Al-Safi said that it is possible to respond to the part related to the delay of the program that had become increasingly noticeable since last November.

“The money allocated for the program was in the bank, but the transfer was not made to citizens for logical reasons.”

He noted that the dollar at the time was at 55 pounds, according to the official price, equaling 275 pounds per family member; that is, the $5 allocated to one person within a family as per the program.

 Post- liberalization however, the same amount now equals about 1800 pounds.

“In truth, we were awaiting the decision to unify the currency price.”

Al-Safi continued by saying that “three days after the decision, we started sending remittances, which amounted to 712 million pounds, and now exceed 2.5 billion pounds.”

Technical expert: There are suspicions of corruption in the program

Doubts Concerning Program Stoppage

An expert source in technology pondered the existence of corruption in the program, and said that the Ministry of Finance controls all “Thamarat” activities, even those that are out of their jurisdiction, to the extent that the ministry determines the specifications of the recipient, the design of forms, the electronic system and all the IT work, and that the youth at the helm of the program enjoy significant financial benefits.

He added that the finance ministry prevented the design of a system whose composition did not exceed “8” fields, with a very generous “$40 million” going to a government agency, and that the amount was absolutely not commensurate with the workload represented in a form that was to be designed by a specific company, and that this step provoked donors.

He continued, “We, as IT specialists, reviewed the technical costs of the system, which the ministry intended to design at $40 million, and added three times the cost to it, and found out that the cost did had not exceed $3 million, and then the data center program was stopped.”

Finance Confirms Cooperation

The Information Department of the Ministry of Finance however, described the claim alleging that the ministry has control over the program as false, and stressed that the partners perform their duties according to the requirements of the project, and that this sentiment always accompanies entities that do not understand the inner workings of entities that manage public money.

A source in the ministry stated that the employees of “Thamrat” were appointed by the World Bank and that their salaries are paid by the International Corporation.

He considered that the talk about corruption in the “Thamarat” program was a political ploy to thwart the project.

Attempt to Sedate

The economic expert, Dr. Sidqi Kablo, considers the “Thamrat” program as an attempt by the government to numb the people to the harshness of lifting subsidies on commodities and fuels in implementation of the creditors’ prescription.

He told AlTaghyeer that the “resorting to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is akin to the person who throws himself into hell every time you ask him for more (referring to the requirements proposed by international institutions).”

Sidqi Kablo

“This is not a solution. The state is supposed to move immediately to organize the gold and crop market and determine import and purchase lists.”

He considered that the “5” dollars that are spent on citizens from the program does not suffice from hunger in light of the continuous rise in prices as a result of the implementation of the economic liberalization policy, as the amount only equals “2,150” Sudanese pounds (SDG).

Kablo pointed out that the World Bank allocated $1.8 billion for the Thamarat program, of which $700 million reached,  adding that “400” million would cover “6” million families whose national data and numbers are complete, according to the Ministries of Communications and Interior.

However, the program has been facing many obstacles since its inception and up-to date.

Compensatory Incentive

For his part, economic researcher Babiker Ahmed Abdullah considered that the “Thamarat” program is a compensatory incentive from the International Monetary Fund to the government of Sudan that pays directly to eligible individuals for a full year in return for their being affected by the economic reforms plan adopted by Sudan in accordance with the policies of the International Fund.

He told AlTaghyeer that “It is known that economic policies such as lifting subsidies and liberalizing currency lead to a rise in immediate inflation, which negatively affects those with limited and semi-fixed incomes.”

“I do not think that the Sudanese government has options to dispose of this compensatory support except to distribute it directly at a value of $5 per person, but in return, implementing the cash support plan is very difficult in practice due to the lack of a country-wide database…,” the economic expert said.

Babiker Ahmed Abdullah

“…and the absence of accurate statistics for those eligible for direct support because most Sudanese are not interested in obtaining identification papers, and even the government itself does not have the basic database of citizens because there is no electronic government,” he added.

He continued by saying that the distribution of direct support may take a long time, and that the twelve-month period may pass without even covering a small part of the beneficiaries.

Babiker hopes that the state would adopt another, non-monetary mean of reducing the burden of economic policies, through programs to distribute direct goods at factory prices, either through cooperatives or through discount sales centers that include all regions, comprehensive of most of the necessary commodities.

He pointed out that support through cooperatives and discount sales centers is easier, as such centers can be established in neighborhoods, villages, and markets for villages and neighborhoods.

Management at «Thamarat» Clarifies

Mutawakil Omran from the “Thamarat” media department stated that there are multiple electronic payment methods used by the program, namely bank accounts or bank cards, in addition to phone numbers.

Mutawkil reported that there have been issues with the data entered by some families.

“For example, when sending the payment list to banks or telecommunications companies, data verification processes are carried out, such as matching bank accounts or phone numbers with the names of the beneficiaries,” Mutawkil said.

Thamrat media: There are problems with the data entered by some families

“In many cases, we find that some families have entered non-conforming phone numbers (phone numbers that are not registered in the names of the beneficiaries). In such cases, the families are referred to, and the data is reviewed and verified before sending the cash. For families, these treatments take some time,” he added.

He stressed that the Thamarat program is now working through awareness campaigns to guide and alert Sudanese citizens to enter correct information to ensure the speedy arrival of financial support to families, no later than 3-4 weeks from completing the registration process and matching the data entered.

Between the underestimation of the value of the program and the accusations of corruption directed at it and the expected benefits that many emphasize, the answers to the questions raised and the accusations leveled remain dependent on the steps being taken on the ground.

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